Going To Washington

County supervisor blames federal forest mismanagement for ‘the mess we're in' and now she wants them to clean it up

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Washington, D.C. is about to get a visit from Gila County District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin, and she's not going to see the sights.

In fact, she's headed to the nation's capital to deliver a pointed message to Congress and the White House: "(I'm) going to tell Washington to get its butt in gear."

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Gila County District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin is going to ask the federal government for $5 million, the amount the Forest Service estimates it will take to create proper fuel breaks around Payson, Star Valley, Pine, Strawberry and the Rim Country's smaller communities.

With a potentially catastrophic fire season approaching, Martin wants Washington to find some money for fuel breaks. Her primary argument is that the federal government created the jungle that is putting the Rim Country in jeopardy through a century of forest mismanagement.

"I'm going to Washington to say, ‘We are a county that virtually has one-and-a-half percent private (taxable) land to run the county on. We are the poorest county in the West.

"We can't raise the money. And why should we have to? It is 100 years of failed federal policy that created the situation we're in -- having to fireproof ourselves. I'm heading to Washington with my hand out."

Martin is not buying the excuse that there is no money available:

"If you can put $500 million into Katrina (relief) to rebuild New Orleans so it will just flood again, don't you have $5 million to fireproof (our) communities?"

That is the amount the Forest Service estimates it will take to create proper fuel breaks around Payson, Star Valley, Pine, Strawberry and the Rim Country's smaller communities.

What is particularly bothersome to Martin is that many of the areas in most critical need of thinning are National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)-ready, meaning the environmental and archaeological hurdles required under the National Environmental Protection Act have been cleared.

"We have had 5,000 NEPA-ready acres for three years," she said. "Now, we have 50,000 ready.

"They've put a prescription on the land saying we need to do this. We need to return this area to some kind of ecological health."

According to Martin, Pine and Strawberry represent the most critical area for preparing a fire break.

"Pine-Strawberry is the most critically rated fire danger for the entire West," she said.

While those communities have led the way in establishing fuel breaks around their perimeters, they will not stand up to a major conflagration, and other Rim Country communities are in worse shape.

"We don't have the NEPA-ready acres on the east side," Martin said. "Christopher Creek and Kohl's (Ranch) need to push that process."

The Gila County Board of Supervisors pledged $150,000 in matching funds for local fuel break efforts at its regular meeting last week. Star Valley, Pine and Payson will each receive $50,000 to supplement local efforts.

"The Forest Service has got a program called SPOT, Strategic Placement of Treatment, and I'm wanting them to model Pine and Strawberry," Martin said. "I want the money well spent. If we can only afford to cut, for instance, 100 acres, which 100 should that be? Then let's get started on those 100 acres. I don't want to sit here and fiddle while Rome gets ready to burn.

"Then when I go to Washington, I can say, ‘Just in Pine-Strawberry this is what's ideal.

"We can only afford this and we're doing it, but you need to put up money now (for the rest)."

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